Sunday, April 10, 2005

Album Review Compendium (Part 2)

Dead Kenny has been something of a Brendan Benson fan ever since catching him live back in the autumn of 2002, the album 'Lapalco' proving to be one of the most memorable collections of pop tunery of the decade so far. This did create some problems when faced with the follow-up record The Alternative To Love: with wanting to like it so much, how to cope with the seemingly inevitable disappointment? And indeed, the initial reaction is of minor deflation, the record sounding pleasant enough but with a more polished production seemingly blunting the edginess that distinguished 'Lapalco'. And yet, for all this, it's one of those records you find yourself playing almost continuously, up to the point where you start counting your favourite tracks on your hand and find you've got no fingers left. Benson is a self-proclaimed misfit who finds his 'alternative to love' in music, and his social life's loss continues to be the more discerning listener's gain.

Whatever Benson's faults, no-one can accuse him of belonging to the school of singer-songwriting that former NME hack David Quantick describes as producing university graduates who pretend they've spent their entire lives living in a shack gulping down moonshine. Dead Kenny has no idea whether or not Sam Beam has a degree, but it's not difficult to conclude that Iron and Wine were one of the acts that Quanto had in mind. Indeed, the latest release Woman King has found Beam derided as a 'Judas' for going 'electric' and it's tempting to describe the mini-album as a bridge between his earlier DIY records and what promises to be a more commercial future. Yet just as bridges can be fascinating constructions in themselves (sometimes more so than the points they connect), upon further investigation 'Woman King' reveals some of Beam's best songs to date, with the airy harmonies of 'Grey Stables' providing the mane attraction before the electric guitars bolt out on closer 'Evening On The Ground (Lilith's Song)' in which Sam insists 'we were born to fuck each other/one way or another'. To which, depending on your orientation and mood you may respond with 'steady on old chap, take some bromide with your moonshine in future' or 'hit me, hit me, HIT ME, with your lasers, Beam'. That's Judases for you, Dead Kenny guesses, always getting Escariot away.

Another record finding its' artist in transition is Take Fountain which was mostly recorded as a Cinerama project before being released as a 'comeback' record for David Gedge's previous outfit The Wedding Present. The main difference in personnel and subject matter from Cinerama's last record (the cruelly under-regarded Torino), is the absence of Sally Morrell from vocals/keyboards but also as significant other in Gedge's personal life. The result is a collection of (sometimes epic) break-up songs that are soundtracked by a blend of Cineramaesque strings and Weddoes guitars. Although there are occasional worrying signs that Gedge is drifting into becoming a greying muso (the guitar work is much more precise and disciplined than on early WP releases), for the most part the record works, particularly on brooding single Interstate 5 and the beautific finale provided by Perfect Blue which leaves us impatiently waiting for the next (and first 'proper' Wedding Present) installment in Gedge's personal and musical journey.

Just starting out on their musical odyssey are Bloc Party, whose eastern promise finds fulfillment on their debut full-length release. Silent Alarm doesn't offer a snooze function as there is a pleasing range of styles complementing the high-quality choonage contained therein. Bloc Party manage to sound clinical and yet also convey warmth, and the other great thing about them is they write songs that are actually about things, which translates into songs that sound their own despite the many musical reference points. Demographically, they seem to have things covered: they have the Fred Perry shirts and the fast, angry songs to please 'the lads' and yet show enough heart on their polo-shirt sleeves to charm the geeks and the girls. Furthermore, with Kaiser Chiefs (who epitomise everything that is hateful; calculating and formulaic about frontline British indiepop) stealing their commercial limelight, hopefully Kele & Co. can avoid the level of hype that left Franz Ferdinand somewhat overexposed this time last year. Which is all good, as Bloc Party deserve a lengthy career having established themselves with the best British debut album since 'Original Pirate Material'.

It's earlier days still for Controller.Controller who follow up their support slots earlier this year for Death From Above 1979 with a mini-album History, which thankfully doesn't repeat itself too much during its' near 30-minute duration (pretty good value then for £4.99 while stocks last). Dead Kenny doesn't know much about the band at all, but they produce a beguiling mix of female-fronted post-punk and hard rock influences that doesn't insult your intelligence while it dictates your feet and body to keep moving.

Part 3 of this latest batch of album reviews will follow shortly, with Dead Kenny running the rule over recent offerings by British Sea Power and The Bravery, amongst others.


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